PHOTO: Courtesy Jack Hanna family via Twitter
Jack “Jungle Jack” Hanna, celebrity zookeeper, wildlife conservationist and television personality, is navigating dementia. His condition has grown more severe in the past year of pandemic lockdowns.
In a statement on Twitter last week, Jack Hanna’s three daughters shared the news that Hanna, 74, is believed to have Alzheimer’s, and that the past year has been particularly detrimental to his health.
“His condition has progressed much faster in the last few months than any of us could have anticipated,” his daughters wrote. “Sadly, Dad is no longer able to participate in public life as he used to.”
This is not an unfamiliar experience for people living with Alzheimer’s through the isolation and heightened stress of COVID-19: Music icon Tony Bennett, 94, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease four years ago. His wife revealed Bennett’s diagnosis to the public just this February after pandemic circumstances exacerbated symptoms and sped the toll of the disease. “Just how therapeutically beneficial performing had been for Tony soon became obvious when his world shrank to the confines of his apartment,” Bennett’s neurologist told AARP earlier this year.
The Hanna family may be enduring a similar acceleration of symptoms. Hanna served as director of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio from 1978 to 1992 and continued to be its spokesperson until this past year. He retired in 2020.
“Dad advocated for improved wildlife habitats and focused on connecting the community with animals,” his family wrote in the statement. “He has spent his life connecting people and wildlife because he has always believed that having people see and experience animals is key to engaging them in more impactful conversations … Even though Dad is no longer able to travel and work in the same way, we know that his infectious enthusiasm has touched many hearts and will continue to be his legacy.”
A letter from the Hanna Family pic.twitter.com/ewuNYa0ReG
— Jack Hanna (@JungleJackHanna) April 7, 2021
The Columbus Zoo told CBS News, “While Jack retired from his official role at the end of 2020, his legacy will be ever-present in our work as we continue to fulfill our organization’s mission to lead and inspire by connecting people and wildlife.”
The Hanna family asked for privacy and understanding due to, with the sisters adding, “ironic given Dad’s love of interacting with people.”
“While Dad’s health has deteriorated quickly, we can assure you that his great sense of humor continues to shine through,” the statement said. “And yes, he still wears his khakis at home.”